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The Morning Dish – Friday, March 31, 2017

March 31, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

TCU just completed a renaissance season, one where it was one of the most surprising teams in the country. It even finished that season with a championship. And as much as the focus deserves to be on its feats this year, it’s mighty hard even now to not be already thinking about what the Horned Frogs’ might be able to do next year.

After a very impressive run through the National Invitation Tournament, TCU is going to be one hot team entering next season. It took him all of one year to do it, but it can be said already: Jamie Dixon has made his alma mater into a program that’s going to be a topic of conversation very soon.

An NIT championship game that on paper appeared to be an even matchup ended up a laugher. TCU blew out Georgia Tech, with the 32-point margin in its 88-56 victory tied for the largest ever in this 80-year old tournament’s history. Only Bradley in 1964 with an 86-54 rout of New Mexico has won an NIT title game by as many points.

The Frogs got superb performances from three players who are forming a very strong nucleus. Kenrich Williams scored 25 points and added 12 rebounds was named a very deserving tourney Most Outstanding Player; Vladimir Brodziansky scored 18 points and completely outplayed Georgia Tech star Ben Lammers, and guard Alex Robinson added 10 points plus 11 assists. The trio led an effort that was dominating in all facets, with an exclamation put on in the last 10 minutes as TCU finished the game on a 28-7 run to blow it wide open.

The Horned Frogs had a terrific season, their best in just about 20 years. Not since Billy Tubbs had horses like Lee Nailon running up and down the court in the 1998 NCAA Tournament has TCU had such a memorable year. It might be argued by some that this could be the third-best season in school history, behind the 1987 SWC champions and that 1998 NCAA tourney squad (though a couple seasons in the early 1950s likely deserve mention, too). Certainly it ranks among the best in the last half century at a school with just seven NCAA tourney appearances all time, and only two since 1971.

Dixon’s team did not start a single senior in its NIT run, and in fact it played without its point guard as freshman Jaylen Fisher missed the tourney with a broken wrist. It’s a team that is already strong, and should only get stronger with Dixon having another year to recruit and continue building the program.

One can wonder if perhaps TCU not having the element of surprise next year could dim the outlook somewhat, but make no mistake: expectations for the Horned Frogs are going to be very high. An NCAA Tournament bid will be predicted by many, and a spot at the tail end of some preseason top 25 polls is even possible.

That’s all for next year, though. In the meantime, TCU deserves to enjoy the present. From 12 wins and the Big 12 cellar to 24 victories and an NIT title in one year. That’s a lot to be excited about, now and in the future.

Side Dishes:

  • Dayton has hired a replacement for Archie Miller, bringing in alum Anthony Grant. He’s most known in the college ranks as the former head coach at VCU and Alabama, and Grant spent the last two years as an assistant with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s easy to forget that Grant was very successful at VCU, defeating Duke in a famed 2007 NCAA 1st Round game and paving the way for Shaka Smart’s Final Four run. It’s also easy to underestimate his experience-he’s also an incredibly young-looking 50 years of age. Grant has a tough act to follow behind Miller, but he’s capable of keeping the Flyers at the top of the Atlantic 10.
  • Bethune-Cookman has a press conference set for 12:45 p.m. Eastern time today, where it will announce Ryan Ridder as its new head coach. Ridder has been the head coach at Daytona State (Fla.) CC the last three years and led a major program turnaround there, and he will move literally just a few minutes east to take over a Bethune program that has struggled for years to build a consistent contender in the MEAC.
  • Another opening that has been filled is at UC Santa Barbara, where Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack is the man to take over at one of the nation’s most beautiful campuses. Pasternack will get his second Division I head coaching job after leading New Orleans for four years from 2007-11. The Gauchos were solid most years under former coach Bob Williams, and with the famous Thunderdome as its home UCSB always has felt like a little bit of a sleeping giant program, capable of winning big again like it once did in the late 80s/early 90s heyday of coach Jerry Pimm and players like Eric McArthur, Carrick DeHart and Brian Shaw.
  • A few coaching changes we missed from the day before: Seattle made a nice hire, plucking Jim Hayford from Eastern Washington. Another positive sign for the WAC, as the Redhawks get a coach who took EWU to the NCAA Tournament two years ago. Another RedHawks-different spelling-filled its opening as Miami (Ohio) hired Jack Owens, who was the associate head coach at Purdue the last six years. This will be the first head coaching job for Owens, who takes over a MAC program that has struggled in recent years but has a history of success with 17 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances, though just one of those is since Wally Szczerbiak led Miami to the Sweet 16 in 1999.
  • The Pac-12 is losing two more of its star freshmen, as Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and UCLA’s T.J. Leaf are both declaring for the NBA Draft and plan to hire agents. As good as both players were, both teams are very much equipped to deal with the losses, which were expected.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • The week of championships continues with both the CBI and CIT title games. Coastal Carolina is at Wyoming (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU) in the deciding game of their best-of-three CBI series, and the Cowboys will be fairly heavy favorites to win at home up at 7,220 feet elevation. The CIT championship will follow with St. Peter’s at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in an attractive matchup (9 p.m., CBSSN). There are some excellent individual matchups in this game, including the Peacocks’ Quadir Walton up front against TAMU-CC’s Rashawn Thomas. Ray Floriani has been all over covering tournaments the last month, and he reported from St. Peter’s CIT semifinal win over Furman Wednesday night.

Enjoy your Final Four weekend.

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